Co-authored by Dr. Amritpal Singh Shergill, President of the World Sikh Organization of Canada
This week, Canadians observed the National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism. Established in 2005 on the anniversary of the Air India bombing, the occasion provides an opportunity to commemorate more than 300 innocents murdered on Flight 182, as well as the victims of thousands of terrorist attacks in the ensuing years.
For Sikh Canadians and Jewish Canadians alike, the Day of Remembrance has particular resonance. That our two communities have shared experience in facing terrorism was pointedly on display during the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Among more than 150 murdered in Mumbai were Indians of all faiths, including Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus, international tourists, and members of a local Jewish outreach centre -- all targeted by extremists from Pakistan. While Israel and India may be miles apart geographically, linguistically and even culturally, they are intimately connected by the shared burden of coping with of the pervasive threat of terrorism.
According to the U.S. State Department, 9,707 terrorist attacks occurred around the world in 2013, with the number of victims totaling nearly 18,000 murdered and more than 32,000 injured. In 2014 alone, we have seen brazen attacks by various emergent terror groups.
The bloody advance of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has upended all hope for a peaceful post-war Iraq. The anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka this past Sunday by Bodu Bala Sena has mirrored events in Myanmar, where there has been a surge of attacks against Muslims. The two-day rampage of Al-Shabab gunmen in Kenya last week was a frightening sequel to the group's September attack on Nairobi's Westgate Mall. The kidnapping and forced conversion of dozens of school girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram has brought global infamy to a once-obscure jihadist group. The use of abduction as a form of terrorism has likewise hit home in recent days for the Jewish community as Israeli military and police search for three Israeli teens abducted by Hamas, an extreme Islamist group whose stated mandate is the destruction of Israel.
While these events appear to be remote from our own country, Canadians are by no means immune from terrorism in an increasingly globalized and digital world. It is worth considering three distinct challenges that terrorism poses to Canadian policymakers.
First, we must continue to expose and shut down efforts to use Canada as a platform to raise funds for terrorism overseas. Just this April, the federal government added the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy -- Canada (IRFAN) to the list of banned terrorist entities for having provided material support for Hamas. That IRFAN had raised millions of dollars in Canada under the guise of charity reveals the ease with which the generosity of Canadians can be abused by those with odious objectives. However distant overseas conflicts may appear, geography is irrelevant when it comes to the financing of terror.
Second, we must do more to counter the growing trend of Canadians volunteering for foreign terrorist groups. In February, CSIS informed the Senate National Security and Defence Committee that an estimated 130 Canadians have joined terrorist groups in Syria, Yemen, and parts of Africa.
While examples abound, the issue is perhaps exemplified best by Farah Mohamed Shirdon, a homegrown extremist from Calgary and ISIS recruit who was recently shown in a video burning his Canadian passport and declaring: "God willing, after Syria, after Iraq, after Jazeera (the Arabian Peninsula), we are going for you Barack Obama."
As testimony from CSIS confirms, Shirdon is not unique. With ISIS on the rapid rise in Iraq, others will follow his example with tragic consequences. Radicalization in Canada directly fuels violence in the Middle East, and it represents a boomerang that will return to our country - a threat that is preoccupying Canadian authorities.
This speaks to the third challenge that cannot be ignored: the threat of terrorism here in Canada, whether from foreign organizations or homegrown elements. Recently, National Post journalist Stewart Bell reported on declassified documents from the federal government's Integrated Terrorist Assessment Centre which, for perhaps the first time, officially confirm that Canada is monitoring the potential for Iranian-inspired attacks in our nation's capital.
Indeed, the 2013 arrest of two Canadians who allegedly plotted to derail a VIA train outside Toronto, and the disturbing courtroom comments by one of the accused, remind us that the lack of successful attacks is not for lack of trying on the part of would-be terrorists. It is a chilling testament to the power of jihadist ideology that those who benefit from Canada's remarkable character -- a society of openness, inclusiveness, and pluralism -- are ready to murder others and to martyr themselves.
The fact that the plot to derail a VIA rail train was thwarted by a tip from the Muslim community reminds us of another important reality: the struggle against terrorism is one that must be shared by all Canadians. It must be appreciated that ordinary Canadians, irrespective of religious, cultural or geographic affiliation, have shown that they continue to stand together against terror and in defence of our human rights.
Victories in counter-terrorism are invariably quiet and rarely met with acclaim. The public never sees the attacks that are averted, the funds that are frozen, and the terrorists who are denied access to our country. That we have yet to experience a large-scale domestic attack in the years since the Air India bombing is in no small measure due to the hard work of Canada's security and intelligence officials, who have thwarted numerous such attempts. Their success should evoke our gratitude.
And, this week in particular, the memory of hundreds of Canadians murdered on Air India Flight 182 and dozens more on 9/11, among other Canadian victims of terrorism, should inspire us to greater vigilance - not complacency.
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